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TSE  February 2005

TSE February 2005

Subject:

Re: Eliot on Lawrence et al. (good old al)

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 14 Feb 2005 13:35:54 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (115 lines)

I find Lawrence pretty contemptible (which doesn't mean he isn't a good
novelist: I have no particular opinion on that). If I remember correctly
from Lady Chatterley's Lover (which I read in 1959 and haven't reread)
the final stage in Lady Chaterley's 'training' is to laarn not to be so
greedy as to expect an orgasm.

See an interesting review of Lawrence's _The Lost Girl_ in the current
(February 24) issue of the NYRB by Robert Skidelsky. The opening
paragraph:

******
1.

D.H. Lawrence is often thought of as a novelist of sex when really his
great subject was marriage. We tend to forget that Lady Chatterley's
lover was also her second-husband-to-be. Yet marriage was Lawrence's
relig-ion as sex was merely his sacrament. "There's very little else, on
earth, but marriage," said Tom Brangwen in The Rainbow, drunk at his
daughter's wedding. Lawrence was intoxicated for most of his life with a
similar apprehension. Marriage unites two people; it also proves that no
such thing is possible. And so marriage was for Lawrence not so much the
symbol as the very type of his thought and experience: he insisted with
an indivisible passion on both the inviolabil-ity of human individuality
and one's need for others. And having pledged himself as a young man to
this contradiction, he lived with it until he died.*****

And here is the final section of the review:

******
5.

The man the lost girl of 1913 was to marry had "the straightest stare in
his blue eyes that has ever been seen since the Vikings." So says the
surviving fragment, which tells us very little else about him. One is
reminded not only of the famous keen blue of Lawrence's own eyes but of
the strange passage in Studies in Classic American Literature on the
blue-eyed Herman Melville: "He was a modern viking. There is something
curious about real blue-eyed people. They are never quite human....
Blue-eyed people tend to be too keen and abstract." In the same essay
Lawrence faulted Melville for seeking out "perfect mutual
understanding," for not understanding that the best relationship "is one
in which each party leaves great tracts unknown in the other party." He
called Melville-and anyone believing in spiritual or intellectual
union-an "idealist," admitting that he had been one too. But Melville
"stuck to his ideal guns. I abandon mine."

This gives us some idea of what Lawrence meant when he wrote, while
finishing The Lost Girl in 1920, "I loathe the ideal with an increasing
volume of detestation-all ideal." He wanted for Alvina a husband who
would not make the doomed effort to understand her perfectly or to know
her through conversation or to trick out their passion in high-minded
justifications. After writing down Alvina's name as his wife at the
Italian consulate, Ciccio looks "up at her with the bright, unfolded
eyes of a wild creature":

    What did he see when he looked at her? She did not know, she did not
know. And she would never know. For an instant, she swore inside herself
that God himself should not take her away from this man. She would
commit herself to him through every eternity. And then the vagueness
came over her again.... 

This is very far from the bitter precision with which Lawrence has
described Alvina's neighbors. Italo Calvino once wrote that only in
Italian is "vague" a term of praise. Here and elsewhere Lawrence may
have created an English equivalent for the Italian connotation. It is a
feature of Alvina's and Ciccio's happiness that they are "vague,"
unknown to one another.

So it is Lawrence's former notion of love-idealized, romantic, voluble-
that we should see Alvina as abandoning when she sets sail for Italy
with her inarticulate bridegroom, whose yellow eyes are like those of a
wolf. She gazes back and sees cliff-faced England "like a long, ash-grey
coffin slowly submerging." This was Lawrence's own feeling as well. As
he would write in a poem, "England seems full of graves to me,"
associating the country he quit in 1919 with "belief in love, and sorrow
of such belief."

Yet if Lawrence had renounced love-in 1921 he would write in a letter,
"I here and now, finally and forever leave off loving anything or
anyone"-he did not regret his marriage. Life with Frieda had not turned
out as he had wished. But Lawrence, with his defective lungs and almost
notional physique, had a weakling's disdain for self-pity. Nor would he
permit it of his heroine.

Ciccio and Alvina have left England and arrived in Italy (as in 1920
Lawrence and Frieda had just done). They are also leaving behind a
merely interesting novel for, in its final chapters, a great one. Ciccio
doesn't come from the Italy of travel posters and romantic daydreams,
but from a tiny, primitive village in the mountains of the Abruzzi, and
the newlyweds arrive in winter. We hear how brave this unremarkable
Englishwoman has become when she says, "I think it's fun." But the
peasants are unfriendly, "the house was unspeakable," husband and wife
can barely hold a conversation: "Somewhere in her soul, she knew the
finality of his refusal to hold discussion with a woman."

It is what we might say nowadays to a marriage counselor: We can't talk
to each other. Or else we might accept, with a sigh, that marriage is
disillusionment. But for Lawrence disillusionment has become the chief
purpose and glory of marriage. Marriage cancels ideals and humbles
language. He has come to value it as a deliverance into reality, which
is mainly the reality of solitude. Marriage for Lawrence, and so for
Alvina, has become an initiation into the separateness of all natural
things and intimate persons. Terror you are therefore allowed to feel on
her behalf, but not pity. Here is how Lawrence describes Alvina's
untragic fate:

    Sometimes she would go gathering acorns, large, fine acorns.... And
far off she would hear the sound of Giovanni chopping wood, of Ciccio
calling to the oxen or Pancrazio making noises to the ass, or the sound
of a peasant's mattock. Over all the constant speech of the passing
river, and the real breathing presence of the upper snows. And a wild,
terrible hap-piness would take hold of her, beyond despair, but very
like despair. No one would ever find her.

-------

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